“Don’t do it!” I shouted, jabbing the air with an extended index finger. “Don’t you f*cking dare!” They did it anyway. My wife burst through the door. “What is going on?” she demanded. She thought I was yelling at the kids. I was actually yelling at the television. The Baby’s second episode had just gone too far.
It’s funny where our subjective limits lie. When The Baby’s preview came out, I was completely down for a horror-comedy about an evil baby manipulating a childless woman into becoming its guardian and murdering anyone who got in its way or showed a hint of hostility. The pilot came out last week but I held off on a review because it was very slow, and focused on setting up the characters and plot with little in the way of comedy or horror. A few people died, mostly off-screen, but it wasn’t gory or graphically violent. It deserved time to come into its own. Halfway through the second half-hour episode, I regretted that decision, as I watched the malicious little monster commit the kind of terrible act that first sent John Wick into a righteous fury.
Yeah, I know. Spoilers. But I know my audience, perhaps better than The Baby does, and if I don’t mention that a beloved rescue pet dies horribly onscreen you people will send more hate mail than I got for my Masters of the Universe: Revelations review. It’s barely a spoiler; the sad, inevitable end is telegraphed from the start, and it would take a very oblivious viewer to miss the clues. Hence all the shouting.
The rest of the show is pretty good. As shown in the preview, Natasha is a 20-something restaurant cook who happily spends her child-free existence drinking, smoking, and playing cards with her friends. Unfortunately, those friends are expectant or new parents, and they aren’t paying Natasha the kind of attention she feels she deserves. After a huge row with her two besties, Rita and Mags, Natasha heads off to a shoreside Airbnb to decompress. Shortly after arrival, she’s shocked out of her sullen mood when a woman leaps off the nearby cliff, nearly hitting Natasha before splattering all over the lawn. A baby falls next, miraculously landing in Natasha’s arms. Horrible deaths seem to follow the nameless child, as two police officers who try to get the baby to more appropriate care are found dead with a boulder atop the car. Natasha attempts to bring the baby to authorities only to be temporarily detained for the 3 suspicious deaths. Once she’s finally released, she returns home with a profound sense of relief, until she finds the baby waiting alone on her doorstep.
Show creators Lucy Gaymer and Sian Robins-Grace and writers Sophie Goodheart and Anchuli Felicia King — the show is written and directed almost entirely by women, for obvious reasons — do a very good job bringing this updated story of a changeling baby to life. At least that’s what I assume it is; despite the fact it does not replace a human child, this is a tale of a malicious, spiritually vampiric child that doesn’t age. Using a baby as the main antagonist is a clever trick. There’s no child actor here trying their best to play a convincingly evil little bastard. The baby doesn’t have to speak or move. It looks at you with the empty, seemingly knowing gaze shared by all infants. It is a creature of hunger and spite, obsessed with its own needs and desires. Like all babies. The baby toys with everyone around it, psychically twisting memories until Natasha can no longer convince even her closest friends that it is not her biological child. Although it either cannot or chooses not to manipulate Natasha’s own memories, perhaps to increase the frustration, anger, and fear on which he seems to feed, it nonetheless manipulates her mental state for its own amusement. A public restroom diaper change turns into the sort of parental nightmare those without children fear, and those of us who’ve reproduced know all too well. A frantic attempt to abandon the baby in a field leaves Natasha lost, walking in circles as the beast toys with her sense of direction. The subtext isn’t terribly subtextual, such as when a hug between Natasha and Rita gives the audience a clue there’s no happy ending on the way, but it fits with the show’s classic horror motif.
The second episode’s shocking violence will turn off a lot of viewers. Many more than would nope out were all the violence directed at humans. I’ll stick with the show, if only to provide a final review after the slow-drip weekly release of these half-hour episodes comes to an end. It’s darkly funny and a little bit scary, and I’ve enjoyed most of it. But if another pet meets a similar end, I’m out before you can say “ASPCA.”
Header Image Source: HBO Max screenshots